Wednesday, May 9, 2007

News: The Uncertain Fate of an Old Brooklyn Nook

Construction for a school continues on Franklin Avenue as Crown Heights becomes a focal point for gentrification. Photographed by Sam Lewis.

By Kevin Dugan

Nigel lights a cigar and looks out from his deli onto the neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Outside, storefront churches dot the streets where, with some luck, the garbage trucks pick up the day's trash.

Inside, he tapes up money for good fortune over a thick-paned window: 50 Haitian gourdes, 50 Jamaican dollars, and above them, 50 Euros.

But Nigel may not stick around to see how long his fortune lasts.

"It's not worth it to me," he said. Nigel, a New York native who declined to give his last name, has been in Crown Heights since the early 1960s. He says the neighborhood has seen better days, and that gentrification will only make life harder for local residents.

"These kids don't realize how easy it is to replace them," he said, referring to young, black Crown Heights residents.

White residents have been moving to the city in droves in the last decade or so, transforming ethnic neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and Williamsburg into bohemian enclaves. As rising rents displace the locals, they are forced to find new homes in other poorer areas. Old residents often feel bitter, causing tension between new and former tenants. Displaced residents have, rightly or not, charged landlords with racism and preferential treatment for younger, white inhabitants.

But New York's neighborhoods have always been shape shifting, often in tandem with the ups and downs of the economy. What is unique about gentrification is not the displacement of one ethnicity over another, social scientists say, but an influx of amalgamated cultural values. A century ago, an Italian neighborhood certainly looked very different from a Jewish one. Today, white cultures have largely been lumped together, in part because far fewer immigrants come to the United States from Western Europe.

The gentrifying process often follows the same script. First, new residents, typically young professionals and students, cannot afford richer areas and move into poorer ones. As the demographics begin to change, landlords raise their rents to profit off of the influx. This prices out many of the former residents, who find refuge in other affordable neighborhoods. Then, banks and businesses move in, looking to capitalize on the new market. Old businesses often cannot compete, and the local character evanesces.

Crown Heights seems on the cusp of such a transformation.

Lying east of Prospect Heights and south of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights is in the heart of Brooklyn. African-Americans and black Caribbeans make up most of the neighborhood. According to the city, the 77th precinct, which includes Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, was 80% black in 2000, the last date available. There is also a sizable Hasidic Jewish community centered around the Chabad-Lubavitch international headquarters on Eastern Parkway.

Andrew Lewis, a Heights resident and student at Medgar Evers College, said that the area is getting "rougher" and that it won't end up "like Williamsburg." According to the city, 30% of residents live at or below the poverty line.

But Nigel sees the hard days in the neighborhood as only the first step in mass displacement. He expects "crazy, crazy gentrification," and says the warning signs are obvious. Residents have no choice but to "prepare for their own slaughter," he said.

"The best thing that can happen to Brooklyn and Queens is for the economy to crash," he added.

Within the last year, numerous buildings in the neighborhood have undergone major renovations. The Landmarks Preservation Committee voted to preserve 472 buildings as landmarks in April. The Landmark status keeps residents from changing their building's facade without commission approval.

According to The New York Times, "the beauty of the architecture owes much to a lack of money in the 1970s and 1980s."

The Committee wants to form "a historic district that will serve as the cornerstone for establishing similar districts in the neighborhood," according to their website. Nearly one thousand more buildings have been proposed for landmark status.

In 1985, a Crown Heights studio apartment could cost between $300 and $350 a month, according to a study by The New York Times. Now, a search through multiple real estate companies and private listings yield prices that begin at $825, but are often in the $1000+ range.

The issue of gentrification has left conflicting emotions for white residents all over the city.

Ivan Raykoff, music professor at Lang and Harlem inhabitant, does not feel personally responsible for gentrification.

"I don't feel guilty personally because I don't exactly see myself as part of the force of gentrification,รข€ he said. Raykoff cited "corporate interests" as the main agency behind Harlem's transformation.

Brendon Rist, Lang senior and Crown Heights resident agrees. "I realized that we were kind of the bleeding edge of gentrification," he said. But he "wasn't concerned."

But Sari Ganulin, Lang sophomore and Inwood, Manhattan occupant, differs. "The whole process sucks, and no one should be wrongfully forced out of their home," she said. But gentrification is mostly caused by "luxury condos going in [rather] than my personal renting of an apartment," she added.

"When a Starbucks opens up, it seems to be a sign," she said.

Ganulin and Raykoff both have Eastern European backgrounds. Rist claims to have had family in New York since the American Revolution, but also cites an Irish and Italian background.

Crown Heights has had to fight an uphill battle against its negative image. Extreme poverty in the '70s and '80s forced poorer New Yorkers into the area, where crime rates surged. In 1980, the 77th precinct lead the city in homicides with 88 murders. In 1991, a Jewish man ran over a Guyanese boy, sparking underlying racial tensions into a three-day riot that resulted in the death of one Hasidic man. Racial tensions are still apparent. Several residents interviewed expressed anti-semitic sentiments on the gentrification issue.

The riots are still a sensitive issue for the neighborhood. None of the buildings approved for preservation by the Landmarks Preservation Committee are where the "unrest" occurred, according to The New York Times.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has seemingly given landlords free reign to choose who they rent to. However, he has "asked for a guaranteed minimum of 30 percent affordable housing for area residents, 86 percent of whom rent their homes," according to the North Brooklyn Alliance.

When called for an official opinion, his office declined to comment, citing time constraints.

Markowitz, who grew up in Crown Heights, supports the buildings' new historic standing. Speaking at the Landmark Preservation Committee in 2006, he said the new status "strikes the right balance between preserving the character of some of our most beautiful historic areas while also planning for our bright future."

Chilling at a Franklin Ave. bodega. Photographed by Sam Lewis.

News: Garbage Greening in Fresh Kills

Lang student checks out a ventilator at the Fresh Kills dump. Photographed by Sam Lewis.

By Ben Kelly

The perspective from Staten Island's Fresh Kills is unparalleled. Standing on one of the four monolithic mounds in the former landfill, you have clear views of downtown Manhattan and south Brooklyn. On one side is the shimmering Arthur Kill canal that separates Staten Island from New Jersey. 2,200 undeveloped acres—a space three times the size of Central Park—spreads out in every direction. And beneath your feet, separated by 15 feet of dirt and polymers, is three hundred million tons of trash; the refuse of half a century of New Yorkers.

The landfill closed in March 2001 after pressure from Staten Island residents and the Environmental Protection Agency, although it was re-opened briefly after September 11 to accommodate debris from the World Trade Center site. The city had a daunting pile of trash—an almost too easy symbol of American excess—on its hands. But rather than leave Fresh Kills as a haunting reminder of the perils of unchecked consumerism, the Department of City Planning wants to throw a picnic on top of the trash graveyard.

According to the New York City Department of Planning, by 2037, Fresh Kills will be transformed from one of New York's most notorious eyesores into a sprawling public space with campgrounds, bike trails, a marina and wildlife areas. The project, designed by James Corner of the firm Field Operations, is an ambitious attempt to reclaim a wasteland and render it green.

"Fresh Kills is to the 21st century as Central Park was to the nineteenth,” Parks Commissioner Benepe told New York Magazine. “It will be the largest park built in the city in more than 100 years.”

If the project seems far-fetched, consider this: Pelham Bay Park and Flushing Meadows were both built atop mounds of garbage. In Germany, an abandoned iron mill was turned into a green "theme park." In Beirut, a bomb site is set to become a public garden.

"It's a very new science," said Lang Professor Nevin Cohen, who arranged a field trip for his Urban Studies classes to Fresh Kills last Wednesday. “But it's a very important science, since we have so much degraded land."

Cohen looked out at the huge expanse of empty land and explained that the project required cultivating an entire ecosystem. "This is an incredible laboratory," he added.

In 1949, Fresh Kills seemed an ideal spot for a landfill. A system of natural canals lead from the land to the Hudson River, allowing trash-laden barges to easily navigate a course from Manhattan. At the time, Fresh Kills was marshland and most of Staten Island was undeveloped. Robert Moses approved the landfill with the intention of it operating for three years. But the spot proved so perfect for dumping trash that it wasn't closed until 2001. Throughout those 50 years, Fresh Kills earned the dubious honor of being the bigger of the only two man-made structures visible from space (the other is the Great Wall of China) and for a time it was the tallest peak on the east coast, stacked higher than the Statue of Liberty.

Now, nearly all of that trash—which, aside from household appliances, is strictly the type associated with fish-heads, banana peels and Glad bags—has been “capped.” Construction-site debris has been dumped on top of the garbage. A sheet of durable plastic, called an “impermeable membrane,” is laid on top. Two types of environmentally sound soil are put over the plastic. Pipes are laid beneath the soil to drain the methane gas that is a byproduct of the garbage's decomposition. Studies are being conducted to find appropriate species to re-seed the land.

"Without the trucks, you'd never know it was a landfill," a Ranger from the Department of Parks and Recreation told the Lang class.

That's not exactly true. While grass grows on the mounds, it is still patchy and somewhat weedy looking. Methane drainage pipes poke out every few feet. The land is eerily quiet and lifeless.

"You can tell it's degraded land from the Phragmites," an alert student pointed out. She explained that the plant, often called the common reed, was an indicator of ecological problems. She added, "It just looks like a capped landfill."

There are a few signs of the greening of Fresh Kills, however. On the field trip, the class saw geese swimming in a rainwater pond, a red-tailed hawk and a nesting kill-deer at the top of one of the mounds.

Now that Fresh Kills has been turned into park, New York's trash is shipped to the south—to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, states that bid for the Big Apple's trash contracts. Since it closed, two other landfills—one in California, one in India—have grown even bigger than Fresh Kills. A better solution to getting rid of our waste hasn't yet been discovered. Other options, like burning it, are usually even worse for the environment than burying it. Whether sustainable public places can be built over these areas remains to be seen, but Cohen had a different take on what to do with our trash.

"The question is," he said, "how much can we do to reduce and recycle?"

Park rangers inform students about plans for Fresh Kills. Photographed by Sam Lewis.

Arts & Culture: This is Lang Radio

Students Launch New Podcasts

By Courtney Nichols

In January, students of Sarah Montague's class "Making A Radio Station" would have believed that formulating and premiering a radio station by April was more of a creative idea than a concrete possibility.

However, through weekly meetings with administration, significant out-of-classroom diligence and the help of more than one person who happen to own the correct technology, The New School's radio station has debuted. On April 23rd, a gala was held in the Eugene Lang cafeteria to commemorate the success of the station. Its goal is to "connect a university that suffers from a lack of community," said senior Amanda Jean-Black.

Though not yet a streaming station online, WNSR is currently an iTunes podcast overflowing with original material from New School bands and solo artists. Also included in the podcast are news segments and DJs broadcasting music and performances from peers.

Asked where she sees the radio station in two or so years, Montague said, "It will depend on budget limitations, but hopefully there will be online streaming in real time."

"In the short time we have podcasts with a wealth of materials," she continued. "In the future, we would like to see the radio station as a training ground for producers in the same way *Inprint* is a training ground for journalists."

Though a formal response listing budgetary needs still needs to be given to the administration, at the moment WNSR has a large stockpile of recordings so the podcast can be consistently updated until an online streaming website is established. Through time and further networking, it is hoped that within a year popular music can be aired on WNSR along with breaking news feeds. As with all her students, Montague is "excited for the enthusiastic response from the administration. Everyone has put so much energy into WNSR already."

“WNSR is definitely going to secure The New School as an arts college," said freshman Jake Weingarten. "Not only will it attract incoming students, but it will connect the entire school through one main source.”

If WNSR continues to build up support, it’s almost positive a New School radio station is here to stay. The final proposal is being presented to the board in one week, and from that point WNSR will be a school recognized institution—and all those who ever stared into a mirror and wailed "Hi, it’s a chilly 40 degrees in our town, but let’s warm it up with some hot new music," will get a chance to shine.

Editorial: What's New at the New New School?

By Peter Holslin & illustrated by Jeremy Schlangen

There is no building at this university more dismal than 65 5th Avenue, otherwise known as the “GF.” Once home to a department store, the GF hosts faulty elevators, noisy fans and a maze of hallways that lead to classrooms so small that you wonder if they should be used at all. It is not unusual to see students wandering the halls, looking for class.

The New School plans to tear this building down and put a new building in its place—one with a gym, classrooms, innovative Internet and Audio/Visual capabilities and student space. According to a recent paper by Provost Ben Lee, this is a $400 million venture. So far, the administration has raised about $60 million for the project and hopes to begin construction in Spring 2008. That is great, if it happens.

Yet, the administration has even more ambitious plans for the university. Two weeks ago, Lee introduced what has come to be known as the “strategic planning initiative” to a crowd of administrators and some students in the Orozco room in 66 West 12th Street. The administration, he said, intends to overhaul administration and budget rules, develop the Faculty Senate and introduce a new series of cross-divisional programs that will use projects and civic engagement as an innovative pedagogical method.

In Lee’s paper, a working document entitled “What is ‘New’ at The New School?,” he argued that the traditional university system is no longer equipped to address global issues like terrorism, economic crises and environmental decay. Traditional disciplines—a major in English, for instance, or History—pigeonhole these problems into outdated frameworks. Addressing them requires a collaboration that will address complex issues and lead to incremental improvements, not sweeping ideologies. Lee calls this a “micro-democratic” process.

The New School already has a number of programs that work in collaboration with institutions in India and China, or offer social services in New York City and across the United States. This university also has hundreds of courses in different divisions that address urban and environmental issues. The problem is that most of these do not fall under one program. “We call them orphaned courses,” Lee said.

The idea is to turn these disparate programs and courses into university-wide programs. The signature building will be a collaborative and technologically-advanced space for the programs to flourish. The New School recently hired IDEO, a design-consulting firm, to research student lifestyles and help design the most accessible student space possible.

It was only last summer when Lee kicked off meetings with the deans to discuss bureaucratic hurdles and tensions over the university’s budget, so this process is at its earliest stages. Even so, it will be an immense challenge to execute these revolutionary projects.

The university will likely depend on full-time faculty that are willing to work in these budding programs, or at multiple divisions. But last semester, one dean told me the complexities scheduling courses for professors who work at more than one division are sometimes “beyond human comprehension.”

Tuition drives this university, but The New School lacks space for offices for all of its professors and communal areas for students. Too often, there are complaints that there is scant free space for students and student organizations to meet. Securing this space can be a monumental hassle. These limitations aside, the university still needs to build an undergraduate class and a bigger reputation. This way, undergrad divisions will grow and graduate divisions, which administrators say typically run on a deficit but require prestigious lecturers, will not go bankrupt.

Fundraising for the building throws more demands into the mix. Recently, Lang Dean Jonathan Veitch said strategic planning would grind to a halt if the university cannot raise enough money in time.

Even more pressing is the fact that some of Lang’s curricula is still in flux—requirements and core courses mutate every year for departments like The Arts and Science, Technology and Society. Students from any concentration can sometimes fill up space in popular courses, shutting out the students who need to take them. As Lang administrators shift their attention to a university-wide curriculum, they must still keep working at these complex issues and developing our budding concentrations.

To be sure, the strategic planning is moving along: New School President Bob Kerrey told *Inprint* last week that securing real estate, working out schedules and recruiting full-time faculty are integral parts of this process. Professors recently voted to approve the new Faculty Handbook, the work-rules for faculty at the university, Kerrey said.

Veitch said that committees are currently developing structures for Environmental Studies, Media Studies and International Studies. Kerrey said administrators expect to finish structuring programs by the end of the '07-08 school year, so they can begin hiring faculty and recruiting students the following summer.

In the Orozco room, Lee was blunt: The planning should be in a much more developed state six months from now. Otherwise, he said, “this process has failed.”

After the event, as senior administrators and Kerrey gathered in the hallway, I boarded an elevator with three school officials. Just as we sunk below the fifth floor, the elevator ground to a halt. One of us pressed an emergency bell, and a metallic trill reverberated through the halls.

This was a familiar ring. From time to time, the elevator will stall and this emergency bell will sing its song. When you’re playing with $400 million, it's little things like these that can become big setbacks.

After all, in our quest to create a bigger and better space to meet with students and attend class, the last thing we would want is another GF, a labyrinth-like network of hidden hallways and cramped rooms. But overcoming bureaucratic red tape, rethinking our curriculum and building this new space is no simple feat. So now that we know that the university has a comprehensive plan for the future, we need to make sure that these plans actually come to fruition.

Photo Essay: Crossing Lands

By Rob Buchanan, Nadia Chaudhury & Sam Lewis

Bridges are (usually) above bodies of water. While crossing a bridge, you cannot fall into the water, normally. You are not on solid ground, you are in transit. You are up in the air, like being in an airplane, except, if you're walking, you are experiencing your temporary suspension.

Bridges conform to nature and necessity, are suspended through air and, most importantly, bring you from point A to point B.—Nadia Chaudhury

Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, between Kingston & Rhinecliff, NY. Rob Buchanan

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City. Sam Lewis

Verazzano Bridge, New York City. Rob Buchanan

Manhattan Bridge, New York City. Sam Lewis

Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Tampa Bay, FL. Nadia Chaudhury

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA. Nadia Chaudhury

Tappan Zee Bridge, between Nyack & Tarrytown, NY. Nadia Chaudhury

Photo Essay: How to Build a Boat

By Nadia Chaudhury & Photographs by Rob Buchanan

In the course of a semester, students in "Lang on the Hudson," one of several new 'Lang Outdoors' classes, cut, sawed, glued, planed and completed their final project: a 25-foot Whitehall giga rowing boat based on a traditional New York Harbor design. The boat can be seen in the windows of the Albert List Building on 14th St. just east of Fifth Ave. where it will remain until its launch date, May 4, at 10 a.m.